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How I Redefined My Relationship with Reading

As a kid, I was always an avid reader. From the Magic Treehouse books, to A Series of Unfortunate Events, into the dystopian books like The Hunger Games and Divergent, I could hardly put them down. And I didn’t just read them, I did the reading equivalent of binge watching a Netflix show. I would sit down and read for hours and hours at a time, often finishing 500 page books in two or three days. As I moved into high school, I continued reading for the most part, although I didn’t always have the time to truly dive into a book the way I used to.

Flash forward to college, and I found myself with even less free time. On top of that, it wasn’t uncommon for me to get one hundred or so pages of reading per class, per week. By the end of my homework, the last thing I wanted to do was read more. But, I really missed the escape that reading was able to provide. College is stressful, and I missed being able to turn my brain off for a bit while I read a book. There is something so satisfying about leaving the world behind to fully immerse yourself in a story when you’re otherwise overwhelmed. On breaks and over the summer, I would pick my books back up, breezing through old favorites in just a sitting or two. Yet, it wasn’t really the same. Of course, I continued to buy books I was interested in, I just struggled to find the time to read them. 

Silver macbook by planner and flowers
Pexels / Alana Sousa

This past year when the pandemic hit, I watched my entire life move to electronic formats. I would spend four hours a day in Zoom classes, take a quick break only to begin my readings for the night, all of which came in a PDF form. After spending the day on my laptop, I would try to relax by watching some Netflix or scrolling through my phone. Pretty soon, my laptop started giving me screentime reports of nine or so hours a day. Needless to say, my body was not a fan of my new schedule. My eyes would get tired quickly, and I almost always ended my day with a headache despite my blue-light filtering glasses. So, as I’ve always done in times of stress, I turned to my books.

But, as I returned to my favorite pastime, I knew I needed to do things a bit differently. I still didn’t have the huge blocks of time to dedicate to reading like I did as a kid. I also couldn’t afford to sacrifice a few hours of sleep for the sake of finishing a book I didn’t want to put down (as any college student will tell you, sleep is a precious and extremely limited resource). I set out to redefine my relationship with reading so that it was actually sustainable and fit into my daily schedule. 

stack of books
Photo by Florencia Viadana from Unsplash

To start, I stopped watching my nightly episode or two of Netflix. I wasn’t super invested in any shows, so it wasn’t much of a loss when I stopped watching. Now, it did help that I had recently finished the fifteenth and final season of my personal fav, Criminal Minds. Whereas I used to end my night with an hour or so of TV, I subbed in a book! I started with a book I was excited to read, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (10/10 recommend reading!). Initially I felt guilty for not having more time, I was only able to fit in 20 or 30 pages a night. This was probably the hardest thing for me to break: the mindset that reading is only worth it if you have the time to do a ton of it. I tried to just enjoy the time I did have in my day for reading, even if it wasn’t some major part of my schedule. 

One of the first things I noticed was that it was easier for me to fall asleep. I rarely ever fell asleep watching my shows before bed, but with my books I could feel my eyes closing as I tried to scan the pages. I took this as a good sign! It meant my body was able to actually tell me that I was tired, and needed to go to bed. Again, I worked through feeling guilty for not being able to stay up until 2AM to finish a chapter, but I moved past it. 

Woman reading a book in bedroom
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz from Unsplash

Pretty soon, I began to look forward to the peaceful quiet of reading, even for only a half an hour, before bed. During the day, I don’t have a lot of quiet time- if I’m not in class I’m almost always listening to a podcast or some music. But, I found that I really enjoyed being able to wind down my day with a good book instead of more noise. And, something unexpected happened: my relationship with the books I was reading actually changed too!

When you read a whole book in a day or two, you read for the experience, the escape of those two days into the story. When you read a book slowly, over say two weeks, it’s an entirely different experience. I was still engrossed in the story, my mind drifting to it when I was bored during the day, but I actually had time to think about it- to think about the characters, work the plot over in my mind, and really sit with it. I remembered more details, and at the end of the book, the story felt more like a familiar friend instead of a whirlwind experience.

This is perhaps my favorite part of my new venture into an old habit: the sense of familiarity. I’ve been known to spend quite a bit of time rereading old favorites, simply because I like the comfort of a story you know well but get to reexperience. There are books on my shelf I must have read ten or so times over the past eight years. Now, I’m building that familiarity into my first read.

Assorted Books on Brown Surface

Soon enough, I found myself reaching for my book between classes instead of my phone. My screen time dropped pretty drastically, and I honestly feel better! My days don’t feel like this endless stream of Zoom calls and I don’t feel tethered to my screens. I’ve read more consistently in the past few months than I have in years, and I’ve gotten through some incredible books. I don’t really miss the time I used to spend on Netflix, and I see my reading time as a privilege, not something I need to feel guilty about. Taking some space to step out of our current environment and escape into a book has reminded me of why I always loved reading. As cheesy as it sounds, there is something so special about saving some room in your day for a little bit of magic. After finishing up A Good Neighborhood by Therese Ann Fowler last night, I’ll be picking up Wild by Cheryl Strayed for the first time this evening, and I could not be more excited.

Erin Kleber

Wisconsin '21

Erin is majoring in Political Science and Communication Arts, with a certificate in Criminal Justice. She is a proud co-president of HC Wisconsin, and has been a member since her freshman year. When she's not writing or spending time with her HC gang, you can find her reading a good book, spending time up north, or cheering on the Badger football team. 
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